the list I forgot

We talked a couple days ago what we’re doing to make our homeschool year more… well… educational this year, but I totally left something out.

We did a couple weeks of a daily checklist for the kids. Get up. Have breakfast. Clean rooms. Do school. Free time. (It’s clearly a super exciting list.)

It worked great. When I have a list to keep me on track, I can tick on through the day and get all the things done.

But there was something vital I missed.

Everything else.

I spent so much of each day chugging through their list that I neglected all the other whole categories of things that need to happen in a functioning and happy house.

I realized after about two weeks that I felt terrible and the house had gone pretty much to pot.

The solution to this was another checklist. (Duh!) I’m not as obsessed with checklists as I sound, but they’ve proven useful, so I made one for me. It had all the little routine items that I used to do (back before Lilly was born) to keep things running smoothly. (Well, as smoothly as a house full of tiny humans can run.) 

I reinstated things like a daily load of laundry and cleaning the kitchen each night. I came up with a rough draft of a weekly rotation of chores. (Do the bathrooms on Monday. Change sheets on Thursday… That sort of thing. Again, very exciting.)

This isn’t really a list of new things to do, just an ordering of the things I already have to complete. I find that assigning them space helps me get all the things done with more focus and less stress. Also, if a thing doesn’t get done when it’s supposed to, that’s okay. It’ll come back around.

Just as importantly, “self care” got its own legit check box. Every day.

And, because I frequently fudge on stuff like that (“‘Self-care’… okey dokey. I went to the bathroom by myself, that counts, right? CHECK.”), I also have a list of options to choose from. Read for 15 minutes. Find five minutes of silence. Write. Create. Learn something. Move.

(The girls’ corresponding box reads “free time,” but what it means is “Netflix.”)

I remember reading Lisa Byrne’s words, “Self care isn’t ‘me first,’ it’s ‘me too.'” I don’t prioritize self care above my family or even above mundane housework, but it at least gets a place. Refining this idea further is my friend Jenn, who brilliantly divided self-care into a few distinct (and necessary) categories.

The way my home runs does not at all resemble clockwork, but it’s no longer chaos and I’m a lot less stressed out in general, which means we’re all a bit calmer. I’m even starting to notice how much I enjoy teaching (and learning with) my kids.


How about you? Are there things that you need to add back into your day to bring back some order or vitality?

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confessions of a homeschool failure

Last year, I jumped into homeschooling. I had girls 4 and 5 and big plans to get them through Kindergarten together (because who has time to do kindergarten two years in a row?)

I also had a 1-year-old and a newborn.

And the math and reading programs I picked were both AWESOME. And by awesome, I mean REALLY THOROUGH. And by really thorough, I mean SUPER INTENSE PREP.

We became accidental unschoolers.

I have no problem with unschooling when you’re talking about purposely following the kids’ interests and letting the learning unfold naturally. But my kind of “unschooling” was 100% slacking off. We did about 10 lessons each of math and reading over the course of the last school year, and mostly I tried (with reasonable success!) to keep the kids alive and the house clean standing. I was not watching for teaching opportunities (except the character kind) and when they wanted to learn, I told them, “Later. Mommy can’t right now.”

Of course, it was kindergarten. 4- and 5-year-olds are smart and wired to learn, so each semester I went through our district’s learning targets and they kept up just fine. But a steady diet of coloring, Disney movies, and Wild Kratts does not make a real education.

This year, I have to do something else. I could homeschool for real or unschool for real or send them to other people who know what the heck they’re doing, but I am aware I can’t just keep coasting. Well, maybe I can for one more year, but past that I fear they’ll wind up actually behind. (And wait. What is this “behind”? Who are we racing? Do we care if we beat them???)

Anyhow. This post isn’t about things I did to make homeschooling successful. I don’t have any evidence to point to any success on my part. What I will tell you is what we’re trying.

Simplified curriculum

I ditched my very wonderful and involved math curriculum for the “workbook-page-a-day” kind. Oddly, the first day we had it, I had to CUT THEM OFF after eight lessons. (Full disclosure: I was offering m&m’s for every lesson completed, so it’s not like they were doing it just for the joy of learning. But still. They made it through almost as many lessons in the first day as we did all of last year, and they did it in the time it would take to prep and execute a single lesson of the other stuff.)

I’m still working on the reading part- I have something I’m trying (the ubiquitous “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons!”) but I’m not totally sold. But do you know what else I’m not sold on? The requirement that my kids be early readers. They’re both so interested in reading and writing that I don’t believe illiteracy is in their future, so what do I care if they read this year or next? I don’t. (Please don’t call any authorities on me for this.) I’ll keep teaching, and they’ll learn when they learn.

The rest is read aloud, and it’s FUN. They don’t even really know it’s school. Again, I have to cut them off. We’ll call it a win.

Checklist

I read this awesome (if drab-sounding) book a few years ago about checklists and it CHANGED. MY. LIFE. Until about the time Lilly was born… then I fell off the wagon, stopped checklisting important parts of my day, and my life went to shambles again.

We’re bringing the checklist back, this time for the kiddos. They love checking things off (“I got up! Can I go check that of?!?”) and it keeps us on track. At 5 and 6, life to them looks like a great mystery every single day. Are we going anywhere fun? Somewhere boring? Is someone coming over? Nobody knows! The checklist gives them a layout of their day so they know what to expect. Bonus? They aren’t asking me, “what are we doing NOW???” every six seconds. I put it on the checklist and then we go through the day, checking off all the things. I don’t have any idea why this is so revolutionary (the aforementioned book explained why this is a big deal, but, as I mentioned, it’s been years, so I don’t recall anymore), all I know is that it works. For now.

Lower expectations

I had this hilarious picture in my head of what homeschool would look like. It was a combination of what I experienced in elementary school (firm schedule, desks, raise hands to ask questions, cheerily decorated bulletin boards, lots of fun educational crafts) and what I have seen my mom and best friend do over the years (I can’t verbalize appropriately how organized they both look to me, and again with the crafts).  None of these allowed for my actual life with my actual kids. For that matter, there was no space in either picture for me.

So I’m learning to embrace school as it is, with my busy kids and noisy toddlers and disciplinary battles in the middle. It’s fine if we don’t do “circle time” or light candles or any of the other legitimately cool things other homeschool families do every day. It’s even okay if I can’t handle the ridiculousness of my kids doing things with scissors, glue, or paint. That’s why the Good Lord invented Children’s museums.


I’m homeschooling again this year, because that’s what seems best for my kids and my family now. I like having them home. (I’m not going to lie- I can see the appeal of outsourcing it, too.) I suck at it sometimes, but we’re all going to be okay.

And that’s kind of why I share this with you. I want to show you my ridiculous full-of-fail life to remind you that you will also be okay, fail and all.

 

owning my racism

I fought writing this for weeks. Can I say this? Am I being pretentious, talking about the Big Things like I am any kind of expert?

But also in the back of my mind, the reality: it is my privilege as a white person that even gives me the option to NOT discuss it.

I am a racist.

I hate the word. I hate that I just wrote it. I hate that it’s true.

I know in my head and in my heart that God made us all in His image and loves us all the same. I know that the variation of color on our outsides is a reflection of His great creativity and beauty.

But there is some preprocessing part of my brain that still has an urge to separate people into categories: Us and Them.


The other day, I was downtown. I had just packed my circus of small people into the minivan at the curb, fresh from a birthday party at the museum. They had a chance to decorate their own cupcakes at this party, and I was balancing a plate full of ridiculous-looking something that wouldn’t necessarily look like a dessert to the untrained eye. As I was grabbing the plate of frosting off its holding space on top of my car and getting in, a guy was looking at me curiously.

I felt my body tense. He looks sketchy. What does he want? Are my doors locked?

Then, a half second later, the rest of my brain caught up and shame washed over me. He doesn’t “look sketchy.” His skin is a different color than mine. Jeez. A second look revealed zero red flags. I unrolled my window, wondering if he needed directions or something.

“Can I help you?”

“I was just curious what you were carrying.”

“Oh! Believe it or not, these are cupcakes! The kids got to decorate their own!”

We both chuckled. I went home.


Brené Brown posted a video shortly after Charlottesville and something has been rattling around in my head ever since: we can’t move forward until we own our collective story.

We can’t move forward until we own our collective story.

I’m not sure I’m in a position to own a collective story, but I can own mine.

I am the kind of racist who has friends of all colors, but strangers get sorted into “like me” and “unlike me,” as if color had anything to do with that at all.

I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time the other day. I automatically picked up a conversation I had just been having with a different acquaintance from Japan because I didn’t initially differentiate between the two. Evidently “Asian Woman” is exactly one person in some dark corner of my brain. (This is funny because, technically, I am an Asian woman. But whatever.)

I am the kind of racist who sometimes registers only ethnicity when I am talking to someone. 

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Last week, I was getting my two-year-old boy up for the day. I was changing his diaper, talking to him, and smooching his sweet round cheeks, when it occurred to me: there are a lot of mamas out there changing diapers of toddler boys right this moment, but they’re wondering how to keep them safe in a world where they will be shadowed in stores and pulled over too frequently and just generally assumed guilty until proven innocent. Those brown-eyed, round cheeked boys are more or less the same as my baby, just darker. Thank goodness I don’t have to worry about that.

I am the kind of racist who sees my privilege—like the greater level of safety for my son based on his color—and feels relief first, heartbreak at the injustice later.

I’m not the kind of overt racist who advocates violence and holds my race superior to others, but I’m not willing to say my (more common) brand of latent racism is any less a problem. If I try (however ineffectively) to imagine myself outside of my fish-belly white body, I’m pretty sure “We’re tolerant! And inclusive! Totally colorblind! We heart diversity!” shouted loud from American culture, alongside the reality—from sideways glances to shooting unarmed adolescents—would create a dissonance inside that would make me feel crazy and resentful.

So, friends… I’m sorry.

I don’t know how to fix it.

I’m not sure how to change the circuits in my brain that sort immediately based on color. 1 Samuel 16:7 says “People look at the outside of a person, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I suppose looking at the outside is precisely what I’m doing. I’m not God, and can’t just see hearts rather than exteriors, but I don’t have to stop at exteriors- I will keep looking for hearts.

I can also stop denying it. I can quit shouting, “I’m not a racist!” while my behavior betrays me, however subtly. Because, while I can’t do much with America’s collective story of racism, I can own mine.

when I called my kids jerks…

A few months ago, I wrote this essay in which I called my kids “jerks.” Repeatedly.

I stand by the things I said there, but the word “jerk” bothered me, like a little itch in my brain for weeks after.

At first I assumed I was just feeling icky because of my own judgements about “the kind of person” who calls her kids names and the kind whose kids actually earn those names. I brushed that off, because “that kind of person” is, to some degree, every kind.

I wondered if I was being unkind to my kids, telling stories on them to The Interwebs. This is probably not the issue, given that I do it all the time. I mean, check out the #becausekatherine tag. It’s just post after post detailing why my secondborn is the most endearing crazy person I’ve ever met.

As I chewed on my discomfort with the post—with the word “jerk”—it finally hit me.

I’m pretty careful about the names I call my babies because words matter.

Words matter, perhaps to me more than most. I get excited about verbal precision… when I find exactly the right words for what I mean, it makes me disproportionately happy.

I am created in the image of the God who spoke creation into being.

I don’t believe my words have God-like magic powers. I don’t believe by “naming and claiming” I can make God give me what I want, but my words do matter.

They can bring life or crush the spirit.

They can pierce or bring healing.

They can cause great destruction.

They can bring sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Sometimes my kids behave awfully and would deserve being called a jerk (or worse). But since my words have the power of life and death, I choose to speak life, both to and about them. If I’m gonna call my kids names (which I do pretty regularly), they’re gonna be kind, or occasionally silly.

Lovely. Sweet One. Silly Head. Goofball. Smarty McSmarterson. Any one of a million variants—I’ll happily use anything. But I want to bless my babies. When I use my words about them, my hope is to build them up, not tear them down or limit them with labels.

Sometimes, Jenna says, “I hate that!” Whatever. Some kind of food, typically. I always tell her, “Please be more judicious with your use of the word ‘hate,’ baby.” This is more or less the same: I’m just trying to be judicious, because it all counts.

So… sometimes they are jerks, but you’re unlikely to catch me calling them such. I’m not above it or anything. Words are just too important to be used for that.


What are some ways you speak life to your babies?

Parenting in Public

I remember the first time I caught myself doing it.

My firstborn was a toddler, barely a year. I was at the post office with her near Christmas, waiting in the holiday lines to send a package. I don’t remember what she did exactly, but it required correction. I squatted down on her level, acutely aware of anyone in my peripheral vision who might be discreetly watching me parent, and explained what I needed her to do and why, just a *little* too loudly, in terms far above a 13-month-old’s grasp.

That was the beginning of justifying my parenting in public.

Raising kids brings up ALL my insecurities and magnifies them, so when I’m out around other people, I’m naturally very conscious of what my kids are doing, how I’m responding, and how I might be coming across to people within earshot.

Misbehavior is the worst, obviously. Online parent-shaming is sort of a national hobby. I’ve read posts with titles like “How to Discipline Positively,” “How NOT to Discipline your Child,” and (my favorite) “Seven Reasons It’s Your Fault Your Kid is a Brat.” Everyone has an opinion and has read dozens of blog posts to support it as the best and only way to go. When my child misbehaves, the consensus seems to be it’s my fault: if I were more effective, she wouldn’t be acting out. Maybe she needs more discipline. Maybe she needs more love. Maybe I should cut out dairy and gluten. Whatever it is, her naughtiness is a problem rooted in my lousy mothering. So I’m already in the hole, at least a little. But NOW I have to respond to it, and that’s where my specific mothering style feels especially scrutinized.

So I do things as I should. Calm. Kind. Compassionate. All explained about 20% louder than necessary with about three times as many words as my kids need, just in case someone nearby doesn’t understand I’M MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION HERE, AND THIS IS WHY… [more]


Read more at Kindred Mom!

notes from the overwhelm

Y’all, I’m over it.

OVER. IT.

Not my little people- they’re fabulous, if maddening. I’m over everything else, though. July has been a hell of a month for me, and I’m whooped. My husband left for a ministry thing for a week and a half, which is more than I’m accustomed to handling with four littles. (Side note: single moms? Military wives? You’re amazing.) My dear friend showed up to be extra hands (hooray!) then the smallest turned one, then I had to put down the dear, sweet doggie who’s welcomed all four of my babies home, then my husband got home (hooray!) and my friend left after a week instead of a month because Jesus redirected her, and by the way, the husband is home but has a bunch of evening commitments, so, though I spent a week and a half being awesome and being the mom through all the crappy and family-dog-putting-down, I (impossibly) had to slog through another couple days of pseudo-solo-parenting.

Then today.

At one point, I had dishes from the last 36 hours on the counter, laundry from the last… several days on the futon to fold, cheerios on the floor (because my dog is dead as of last week), my one-year-old eating a piece of leftover dog food to console herself because she rolled down a flight of stairs because the toddler boy left the gate open when he dragged his bike up that flight of stairs, and two big girls with two huge pots apiece with two sunflowers per pot, shoving a collection of eight sunflowers in my face, demanding that I must LOOK AT THEM RIGHT NOW, but for the love of all things green, DON’T TOUCH THEM, MAMA, BECAUSE YOU KILL THINGS.

My oldest, the wisest of them at age six, tells me I need coffee and some food.

I tell her I need a week of silence.

I’ve been counting down for more than two weeks now: until my friend came, until my husband came back, until the weekend, until my process night. I kept imagining that if I could make it to the next thing (whatever that thing was), I could finally relax and find some margin.

It’s slowly dawning on me that the “next thing” never fixes it. It’s taken weeks (well, perhaps years, depending on how you’re counting) for me to get to this overloaded place, and no three-hour chunk of quiet (nice as it may be) can fix that kind of weary. It’s a little like the realization that I will never “catch up” on sleep. There’s not enough time ever to make up all the hours of sleep I’ve lost over the years of babies and college and miscellaneous late nights.

So now what?

Well, when I’m especially behind on sleep, I try to adjust my habits to get more sleep, but I stop worrying about “catching up.” I let “more” be enough.

I wonder if, in this current state of weariness and this current deficit of quiet, I need to just let more be enough. I can’t get a week of silence to compensate for the two weeks without.

I hope I’m right, because a week of solitude is not an option right now. (Darn it all.) My game plan now is to find quiet wherever it can be found (bathroom, anyone?) and hope that eventually it’s enough again.

Until then, I’m just praying (again and still) for enough grace to make it through today. It’s always there.

If you have any tricks for finding margin again after a season of relentless overwhelm, I want to hear them.

first birthday of lilly mae

Hey, darling girl.

This is my fourth first birthday letter, and it may be my last. I always say (or at least feel) something like, “I can’t believe you’re ONE!” To some extent, that’s there a little- I’ve been reflecting on your birth today and it doesn’t feel so long ago.

But honestly? I can believe it. I know you’ve been with us for a whole year. I can’t really remember much of pre-Lilly life. This year’s been a whirlwind, much like Katherine’s first year was—something about the combination of a baby and a toddler makes it feel like the fastest and slowest year ever.

Anyway. Here’s the point. You fit, little girl. Some day when you’re older and these questions enter your head, you might wonder if you were just an extra. You weren’t. You fit perfectly in our family- we wouldn’t be us without you. Your sweet little scrunched up nose with the dimples (so many tiny dimples!) and your little bottom lip… You’re delightful. Jolly. Sweet-natured and chill. You’re patient with your siblings’ shenanigans.

Ever since we learned you were a girl, I’ve been excited about the big brother/little sister dynamic between you and Brian boy. I had NO IDEA. You two are so sweet together. He dotes on you, and you smile whenever you see him. I love when I have just the two of you together… He crawls around just to have you chase him, which you do with squeals of delight.

Your sisters adore you, as well. Jenna thinks she’s your mother, and Katherine is forever trying to get “the perfect setup” for you—she makes beds out of her blankets and pillows and stuffed animals “for when you sleep.” Sometimes, you even humor her by lying there for a bit.

Speaking of sleep, you’re still sleeping on the floor of my closet. I’m sorry. We really just don’t have another reasonable place for you right now. Hilariously, we’ve been swaddling you this whole time… we’re only just now giving you a free arm. This is because you’re… on the floor of my closet. Swaddling kept you still (and sleeping happily). So, as you’re fully outgrowing that, I have no clue where we’ll put you next. So that should be fun. I tell you all of this mostly to remind myself later. I’ve forgotten so many details of the last several years—apparently a lot of kids in not so many years does that—so this little quirky fact of your babyhood seems like it should be recorded somewhere, and I’m already writing here. So… Yeah. Anyway. (PS- Mama rambles.)

While I’m rambling… you’re currently crawling. This week, you started to pull up and I suspect, like your brother, you may be a late walker. (Hallelujah- mildly late mobility for the later ones is a gift.) You sing and chatter endlessly, but not much in the way of intelligible words, except when one of your siblings leaves the gate open. You crawl at top speed for the hallway and freedom, yelling, “GOGOGOGOGO!” Thank you for that, by the way—it helps me know when I need to chase you to close the gate and keep you from rolling down the steps. Again.

You’re mostly self-entertained (or sibling-entertained), which is nice. This makes it sound like I give you no attention. That’s false. You’re currently playing with my foot, and every few seconds, I look down and talk to you. You’d be fine if I didn’t, but you’re just too sweet to ignore. And, really, while you clearly have less of my attention than Jenna did when she was a baby, I think the amount of attention you get, counting the rest of the family, is far greater.

Whoops. You’re stuck under my chair. Silly girl.

(I fixed it.)

I love you so. I love that you snort when you laugh or cry really hard. I love your just-beginning curls and your sparkling brown eyes. I love how rosy you are when you fall asleep… your cheeks, nose, and lips are a bouquet of the most perfect pink. You’re growing up so well, little Lilly, and we adore you.